I love watching my son and dog interact. Their relationship is… well, it’s a work in progress. Brennan loves Rocky but Rocky is very patient and accepting of Brennan. Their relationship will not truly bloom until Rocky begins to see social value in Brennan, such as a playmate or running partner. Until then Brennan will be known as the small human who makes loud and unpredictable noises and occasionally gets yelled at by the bigger humans for climbing on me and getting in my face.
I can’t fathom a circumstance where Rocky would ever put his teeth on someone in a defensive or corrective fashion, he’s a very patient dog and that’s why his role within my programs is such a match for him. His job, in essence, is to ignore socially numb dogs while I give those dogs feedback on their behaviour. This also makes him a good match as a family dog. He’ll tolerate so much for such a long time and it gives me a ton of time to address things on his behalf rather than him resorting to using his teeth.
Parents with dogs like Rocky don’t worry just as I don’t worry. I’m not concerned at all that my dogs would ever put teeth on my son. Training and establishing expectations has been a huge part of this, but both of my dogs are very patient and defer to me as a rule as well. When stress gets high, they look to me for guidance.
That being said, it would be very easy for me to be one of those parents who simply allows my kid to climb on Rocky, get in his face and play with him because it’s cute and funny, right? Watching your 2-year-old kiss your dog’s nose or try and “pet gently” is very adorable and if your dog is calm and patient, you’re even more likely to be cool with it.
See, here’s the thing…
I’m not worried about Rocky. I’m not worried about him biting. My job is to teach my son how to be cool around dogs for one main reason:
Someday, Brennan will meet a dog who is not as cool as Rocky and his behaviour around that dog will be dictated by his past experience around dogs such as Rocky.
This means how my son will learn how to interact with ALL DOGS is going to be based on what I teach him about our two dogs. That means if I allow him to molest my dog, it teaches him that it’s OK to do this to all dogs. This means Rocky is his steward to the canine world and his tolerance level is not reflective of the tolerance levels of all dogs in our world. In fact, I would argue my dog is the most tolerant dog I’ve ever met and that has a lot to do with the intensive training he’s received to be able to hold down-stays while dogs bark in his face so I can handle it. This is not “natural Rocky” this is a crafted and orchestrated character-building experience facilitated through training!
The Big Takeaway
Here’s the tl;dr version of this blog. Just because your dog is willing to tolerate your child crawling all over him, poking him and treating him with less respect than you would tolerate from another human it doesn’t mean he should have to. This is the standard wisdom dog trainers will tell you.
I don’t inherently care about this part. I do however care that someday your kid is going to meet a dog who doesn’t appreciate that type of behaviour and is not as quick to forgive and forget and who is the one that will pay the price?
So for your child’s sake first, and your dog’s sake second. Please teach your children to respect dogs. It will create a lifelong love of the animal that will blossom into something he or she will be able to share with his or her children… what better gift can you give?
Well, besides a new puppy…